A Good Trend

In the Reformed Presbyterian Church where I serve, over the last decade or two we have seen congregations adding multiple pastoral staff.  For instance, nearly twenty years ago the congregations in the state of Indiana where I was located all had just one pastor per congregation for the most part.  Today as I write, two-thirds of the organized congregations there have more than one man serving in the pastorate.  Many other denominations have been experiencing similar trends.

Though we long for empty pulpits in congregations to be filled; we recognize not every context or occasion calls for or can sustain more than a singular pastor; and certainly there are difficulties and dangers that can arise in congregations where there is more than one pastor, overall this is a good trend.  As Martin Bucer said in Concerning the True Care of Souls, “Therefore, since the pastoral office involves such a great and important work, and one which so long as we live here is unending, that of presenting the church of Christ in all its members without fault, without stain or wrinkle, this office requires many sorts of ministry and work.”

Teaming up for ministry not only seems like a good trend, but a Biblical one.  When Jesus sent out the twelve and later the seventy, he sent them out in pairs (Mark 6:7; Luke 10:1).  Clearly Paul in his ministry had small to sizable teams traveling with him, and in his letters often spoke of ministers working together in a location.    When Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch following the Council at Jerusalem, the Scriptures say that they “stayed in Antioch, teaching and preaching with many others also, the word of the Lord” (Acts 15:35).

To that end, we should pray and labor for:

Teams of church planters and missionaries to be sent out rather than individuals.  We know the stories of God using lone men like John G. Paton in incredible ways on mission fields, but those examples should be the exception rather than the rule.  Most generally we should be equipping men to work together with others to bring the gospel to new fields of ministry.  Our denomination’s Global Mission Board has worked toward a team approach in South Sudan, and the fruit being born is plentiful and bears testimony to the wisdom of this approach.  Speaking of rules, in the church planting I have witnessed it is almost a rule that men who try to go out by themselves without other help close by usually see the work wilt and wither away.

Other ministers to be raised up alongside us if we are alone in our pastoral work.  With something like 1500 pastors leaving the ministry each month in the USA, many do so out of loneliness and discouragement.  How might that trend be affected if they simply had companionship in ministry?  Even with the presence of faithful ruling elders, teaching elders face great amounts of work time and pressure where they can be alone in what they face.  Having someone nearby to share this work is a strengthening blessing.

This does not negate the fact that many singular pastors thrive with wonderful, supportive ruling elders working alongside them.  They may think they do not need another pastor.  Yet perhaps this is exactly when they should be asking for another man to come along so he can benefit from the older minister’s experience, the ruling elder’s wisdom, and the congregation’s health.  Also, until Christ returns, the church should never grow satisfied with the status quo.  Another minister can open up doors and lead the church into new fields of service.  I was so very blessed to have a congregation that valued having interns and an associate pastor labor alongside me.  It was a constant reminder that “two are better than one” (Ecclesiastes 4:9).

The stirring of sacrifice, creativity, revival, and fruitfulness additional ministers can bring.  Some churches approach this subject by simply looking at the budget and saying, “We cannot afford it.”  Or they think there is not enough work for two ministers.  This is walking by sight, not by faith.  When a congregation becomes seriously committed to praying for the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers because there is too much work and too few workers in his fields, the Lord will not only send along the workers but the means to compensate them and the work for them to do.  I have seen pastors and congregations make gospel sacrifices, find fresh ways to secure funding, and then enter into a period of growth because they valued so highly having other men work alongside the minister.

And far from halving the existing work, another intern or minister usually creates more work!  As Matthew Henry offers as a fitting conclusion, “The multitude of workmen in Christ’s vineyard does not give us a writ of ease. Even where there are many others labouring in the word and doctrine, yet there may be opportunity for us; the zeal and usefulness of others should excite us, not lay us asleep.”

3 Comments

  1. Tim October 18, 2013 at 10:50 am #

    Loved this article. Was thinking the same thing when I read that Bucer teaching some weeks back. Also, recently looking at 1 Timothy more carefully, I noted that the passage often referenced re. paying the pastor (5:17-18) says “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.” What struck me this time was the word “ESPECIALLY”. It doesn’t say “ONLY.” Which suggests to me that elderships can include scenarios where the pastor is not the ONLY one earning some payment for his ministry to the church, which therefore assumes that he, or a single pastor, is not necessarily the only elder who should be investing sufficient time in such work that to devote himself adequately to it, would require or benefit greatly from financial remuneration.

    Up to then, I”d always carelessly read that to mean that we should simply pay our pastors well. And from all the discussions and teaching I’ve heard and been part of on that passage, I think that’s how most other people read that passage as well.

    (Verse 18 follows with: “For Scripture says, ‘Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,’ and ‘The worker deserves his wages’.”)

  2. digitalink October 19, 2013 at 4:27 pm #

    Good thoughts, and #4 let’s continue to pray for “empty-pulpit” churches to receive laborers!

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